Monday, February 28, 2011

Mt Burdell Hike

In the middle of February Anil and I went hiking with Anne and Sebastian in Mt Burdell Open Space Reserve. At 1'500 feet, Mt Burdell is the highest peak in north Marin.

The round-trip to the top is 5.5 miles and takes around 2-3h. Apparently normally it is possible to see both Mount Tam and Mount Diablo from there, but we didn't see them due to low-hanging clouds. Still, I enjoyed the views from the top - it is always fun to be above clouds (much better than being in or under them...)

The trail to the top of Mt Burdell leads through many lush green hills:

When we got to the top, we could only see the low-hanging clouds:

We spent around half an hour at the top, and during this short time the clouds almost completely dispersed:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chantey Singing at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

On the first Saturday of every month San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park organizes a public sing-along of sea chanteys and sailor songs aboard a historic ship "Balclutha". The event starts at 8 pm and lasts until midnight. It usually attracts around 150-200 people, most of whom seem to be "regulars".

Several of my friends and I took part in it a few Saturdays ago (on the first Saturday of February) and we had lots of fun even though we didn't know most of the songs. It was really cool to be on a ship at night together with a big group of people enthusiastic about sailing and sailor songs.

An added bonus was a hot cider and hot chocolate that were served for free on the ship, as well as amazing views of San Francisco.

The event is free and I would definitely recommend checking it out.

The entrance to Hyde Street Pier:

A view of Ghirardelli Square from the ship:

On the ship:

View of Financial District, Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower from the ship:

The park is located in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood of San Francisco and the historic ships are anchored at Hyde Street Pier.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Limantour Spit Hike

At the end of January Anil and I went for a hike to Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore. It was a very easy (flat, ~ 6 miles round-trip) and pleasant hike along a long, narrow spit of sand, located at juxtaposition of ocean, marsh and Drakes Estero. It is a biologically-rich wildlife area, frequented by thousands of birds and seals (and not too many people). We enjoyed hiking there a lot, despite the fact that it was drizzling. The beauty of nature and multiple animal encounters more than compensated for this slight inconvenience.

Limantour Beach:

Marbled Godwit - I was amazed that these birds can put their whole beak into the sand!


Look at this huge crab! When we found it, it was still alive. Anil helped it turn around:

A seagull waiting until we leave, hoping to eat the crab:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Montara Mountain via McNee Ranch

In the middle of January Anil and I went for a hike to the top of Montara Mountain, which provides spectacular views of San Francisco Bay Area.

The top of the mountain can be reached either via trails originating in San Pedro Valley County Park or in McNee Ranch State Park. The former we hiked in September 2010, and the latter will be described in this post.

The trailhead for the hike is located around 4 miles south of Pacifica, just after the Devil's Slide. There is a small parking lot with enough space for around 20-30 cars, which is located on the east side of the road. On weekends it fills up quickly, so I would recommend getting there before 10 am.

The trailhead elevation is around 100 ft, and the top of the mountain is at 1898 ft. This means 3800 ft of elevation change over 7.5 miles, which takes around 3-3.5h to hike (including a picnic at the top).

The hike is pretty strenuous and there are hardly any flatter parts. Luckily, views all along the way are very beautiful, so on the way up one can take many short breaks to enjoy them, without feeling guilty for pausing so often.

The last third of the hike utilizes the same fire road as the hikes originating in San Pedro Valley and the views from the top are exactly the same for both hikes. Compared to the San Pedro Valley hike, the McNee Ranch hike is more exposed and a bit more monotonous. Therefore, if you have time only for one of these hikes, I would recommend the hike starting in San Pedro Valley County Park over this one.

Montara Beach:

Pacifica and San Francisco:

The top of Montara Mountain:

Fire Road:

Devil's Slide:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

San Francisco by Night 2

I had a camera with me at work, so I took a few pictures on my way back home.


(1) My new camera set up kicks ass!
(2) San Francisco is sooooo beautiful...
(3) UFOs exist (check out the sky on the picture number 5)
(4) I love my neighborhood and I feel extremely grateful for having a chance to see such extraordinarily fantastic views every single day.
(5) It seems that I almost always leave the city on the full moon... Hmm...

Indian Women by Anil

A few days ago I bought a new camera (a full-frame Nikon D700) and a set of new lenses (Nikon's 24-70mm/2.8; 70-200mm/2.8; 28-300mm/3.5-5.6 and 85mm/1.4). As soon as my new toys arrived, I was demonstrating to Anil the importance of large aperture for shooting in the low light conditions.

Before I managed to explain anything to Anil, he took his first shot (with a 28-300mm/3.5-5.6 lens at focal length of 300mm, f5.6, ISO 200, exposure 1.6sec) and managed, by chance, to get a pretty cool photo as he moved the camera while the shutter was still open... Sometimes it pays off not to know too much :)

Anil's masterpiece:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Short Update

I've been blogging a lot recently about my travels, so some of you might be curious to know how I'm doing when I'm not traveling. Hence this short update.

Personal Life

My husband came up with a mantra that he repeats several times a day: "Life is good, when wife is good." This goes in both directions: "Life is awesome, when husband is awesome" (awesome = caring, loving, supportive and understanding). As we are nearing the one-year anniversary, we are happy to report that the marriage is treating us extremely well so far. And we are looking forward to 50+ more years together.  


Work is going well, but - as always - is super-busy, and a bit stressful because of that. I'm working long days, but it seems to me that for the amount of time and effort invested there is very little tangible outcome. I think I would be much more happy if at the end of my working day I had a feeling of accomplishing something, or at least of finishing something. Therefore, I'm seriously considering changing a career path. I've not made up my mind yet on what else I could be doing, but I'm exploring different options.

For example, in January I took a course on being an effective teacher, which was very interesting. The American style of teaching is very different from the Polish one, so in many ways it was an eye-opening experience. I will try to write a separate post summarizing the differences some time soon.

I also hope to have a chance to teach a course at one of the colleges in San Francisco next semester, as that would help me decide if a teaching career is something I should consider. I love science and I love explaining it to others, so I think that might be something I would enjoy.

Other careers I'm considering are science writing and/or communication of science to the public. During last three months I gave six talks. Each of them was aimed at different audience (ranging from a general public to specialists in my field) and, therefore, was covering slightly different subject. I had fun both preparing for and giving those talks, and I know that I did a very good job with each single one of them. After each of them I received lots of positive feedback from my audience, which makes me think that indeed I would be good at communicating science to others. However, finding a such job is definitely not easy...


4 continents in 2 months. What a crazy travel year it is! We just came back from Peru and we are already traveling again. Right now we are in Poland, and in a few days we are flying to India. And we might be going to Australia in the second part of the year, as I'm thinking about applying for jobs there...


As some of you know, after science, photography is my biggest hobby. I decided to become more serious about it, and invest both more money and time into taking it to the "next level". Just a few days ago I got myself a brand new super-fancy camera and four top-notch lenses, and I'm super-excited about testing them over the next few weeks.

I'm also committed to spending a few hours every week working on a big photographic project of my own, which keeps me busy all the time that I'm not at work. I'm very excited about it, and I hope you will too when I'll present you with its results some time soon.


I made a promise here that after the series of posts about the 2009 trip to India, I will start publishing posts about our trip to Peru. However, as we are approaching one-year anniversary of our awesome Indian wedding,  I thought it would be more fitting to first blog about it and the wedding preparations.

Therefore, starting in March, you can expect here post about our crazy Indian Wedding. They will be appearing here until our first year anniversary on May 9th (again one post every two days).

Between now and March I will blog about the hikes we did and events we attended since we came back from Peru. After 9th of May I will have a few blog posts about 2011 trip to Poland and India, and only in June I will start blogging about Peru.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do's and Don'ts for Indian Travel

Before my trip to India I read "India (CultureShock!): A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette". I found the book to be entertaining and I am glad that I read it, but I did not think it was too informative. It seemed to me that it was more aimed at people moving to India, not at casual travelers. Anyway, I learned a bit from the book, and even more from my personal experience, so I am going to share it here.

Here is my list of do's and don'ts for Indian travel:
  1. Behave and dress modestly. Especially when visiting temples and mosques.
  2. Remove your shoes when entering a temple, a mosque, or someone's house.
  3. In mosques cover your head with a scarf.
  4. Do not point bottoms of your feet towards any other person or images and statues of gods. (It is considered to be highly disrespectful and offending.)
  5. Treat elders with special respect.
  6. Greet Hindus with "Namaste" or "Namaskar", and Muslims with "Salaam Alaikum".
  7. Do not hug, kiss or shake hands with a person of the opposite sex, unless it is initiated by the other person.
  8. When in public, do not show any signs of physical affection towards the member of the opposite sex.
  9. Do not bring alcohol to an Indian household, unless you are 100% sure that your hosts will appreciate it.
  10. Observe the behavior of others and use it as a guide to your own behavior.
  11. Do not expect anything to happen on time.
  12. Do not use the left hand to eat, sign important documents, pass money or gifts. Left hand is considered to be inauspicious.
  13. In restaurants (in India called "hotels", btw), leave a small tip. It does not have to be the customary American 20%, just round it up to the nearest higher number.
  14. When renting a rickshaw or any other service, agree on a price beforehand. That might be the only way to avoid being overcharged.
  15. In places where bargaining is appropriate (like street bazaars), start the negotiations with 30-50% of the price you are being quoted. Less than that could be considered offending. If a seller agrees on your price, buy it. It would be highly disrespectful of you to simply bargain for fun and then not to buy the item if your price was met.
  16. Be polite, but firm, if you are not interested in buying something. In my experience, the best way to decline somebody's offer politely is to say: "I already have it, and I do not need another one of those."
  17. Don't bargain in proper shops especially those that display "Fixed Price" signs.
  18. Never leave your belongings out of your sight. Especially on the trains. Check out my tips on the train travel here and here.
  19. Drink only boiled or bottled water, and eat foods that were boiled. For more tips on Indian food, check out my post dedicated to it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breaking News - Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow & Jude Law at My Work Today!

Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow will be visiting my work today, as it will serve as a set for their newest movie Contagion. On that occasion our building got renamed to "Mendel Hall" :)

I feel motivated to stay longer at work, even though I'm sick... :) I just wished I had a camera with me...

Update: I have not seen anybody famous, but my coworkers have spotted Matt Damon and Jude Law. Apparently they were only involved in a short scene taking place inside one of the labs, and they came by inconspicuous cars. But in the movie there should be some other scenes as well featuring Genentech Hall and Bakar Gym, so if you watch it, you might recognize the following:

Genentech Hall - for the purpose of the movie renamed to "Mendel Hall":

One of the corridors in the Genentech Hall:

Extras waiting for their five seconds of fame:

Genentech Hall at night (I'm sure some of the scenes will take place outside, after sundown):

My gym - Bakar Center - was nicely lit tonight, which makes me think that it will also be used as a set for the movie:

Yet another potential target for the movie set:

At the very least you have to admit that my workplace is very photogenic :)

We (a group of around 6-7 people under the command of a French postdoc from my lab) tried to get to the closed set were the movie was shot by using one of the last year's Nobel Prize Laureates as a bait. Our attempts failed, as our Nobel Prize Winner shied away from completing the mission :)

Update part 2: I just learned that "Contagion" was also shot two blocks away from my house... I saw piles of trash here and there, and I was wondering what were they doing in my hood, but I just did not put things together...  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Will People Think aka Ruining Reputation

I was amused and somewhat proud to find out that before my trip to India Anil's mother initially did not want me to stay at their family house as "it could ruin Anil's reputation". Apparently, if the news that a white woman stayed at their house would spread, his chances of marrying an Indian girl would be close to zero. Since Anil was never interested in marrying anybody of Indian origin, I decided to insist on staying at his parents house.

You may think that it was culturally insensitive of me to do that, but from my point of view the primary reason to go to India was to visit and get to know Anil's parents. If I had stayed elsewhere, it would have been much more difficult to achieve that goal.

In the end Anil managed to convince his mother to let me stay with them, his reputation did not get ruin, he did not have to marry any Indian girl, moreover we got married and I became a heroin in a medieval love story... ;)

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Indian than Indian Girls

Before my trip to India one of my generous co-workers lent me several of her beautiful Indian outfits. She recommended that I wear her silk salwar kameez on a day I meet Anil's parents. I followed her recommendation and here I am on my first day in India at their house:

In this beautiful outfit I felt like an Indian princess (despite the blond hair...) :)

I find Indian clothes immensely beautiful, and I am very impressed by the bold color combination that is common in Indian designs. However, if you know me, you know that my style is much more conservative and that the base color of most of my outfits is black.

Black clothes are rare in India and it is not easy to find them in the traditional shops. But, luckily for me, the luxury modern shopping malls carry some Westernized designs that occasionally use black. I was so happy about that, that I went a bit crazy and in just two hours at the mall I bought all the clothes that you can see at the photo below. At least these were money well spent, as I am wearing those clothes every day:

I'm very glad that I managed to find Indian clothes that perfectly fit my style. Thanks to that, even though I do not wear saris, Anil's mother does not try to influence what I wear and even compliments my style by saying that my clothes are more modest than the ones of many young Indian girls. (She is from older and more conservative generation, so for her the sole purpose the clothes should serve is to cover as much of a body as possible.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Indian Clothes

If you take a closer look at my photos from India, especially the ones from Hyderabad, you will notice that almost all Indian women wear traditional Indian clothing (mostly saris or salwar kameez), whereas almost all Indian men wear Western-style clothes (trousers plus shirt).

I was very impressed that women were able to ride motorbikes, carry out all household chores and even do heavy-duty construction work wearing saris. At the same time, I found it a bit disappointing that men were not wearing traditional clothes. It seems that men would only wear traditional Indian clothing (Dhoti, Lungi or Kurta) for more official occasions.

The most traditional female Indian clothing is a sari (saree). It is a strip of unstitched cloth, ranging from four to nine meters in length that is draped over the body in various styles (the most traditional saris are 9 m long). The sari is usually worn over an ankle-length skirt called "petticoat" and a blouse called "choli". Cholis usually are short and end just under the breasts. They may be backless or of a halter neck style and have short sleeves. In contrast to pettitcoats, which are plain, cholis are usually decorated with a lot of embellishments such as mirrors or embroidery.

There are many styles in which saris can be draped. The most popular of them is the nivi drape:

As you could see on the video, in the nivi style one end of the sari (the undecorated one) is tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. The cloth is wrapped around the lower body once, then hand-gathered into even pleats (usually 5-7 pleats, each around 5 inches/12cm long). The pleats are tucked into the waistband of the petticoat in a way that the bottom part of the sari just barely touches the floor. After one more turn around the waist, the loose end of the sari (called the pallu) is draped over the left shoulder. The pallu may either be left hanging freely, tucked in at the waist, or used to cover the head or the neck. Typically, the pallu is left handing freely, which highlights the beauty of the sari as the pallu is often intricately decorated.

If you watched the video till the very end, you saw the Gujarati style of drape, in which the pallu is draped from the back towards the front. Personally, I do not like this style and I find the nivi drape much more elegant and female.

Here is another video showing how to tie a sari, in case you would like to practice :)

In case you think that figuring out how to put on the sari is the difficult part, you are wrong. The difficult part is figuring out how to walk in it and how to wear it gracefully.

The very first sari that I ever wore was my wedding sari. As soon as I bought it I started practicing draping it nicely around myself. After just a few tries, I felt confident that I could do it pretty well. But then I realized that also walking in a sari, and especially sitting down, without disturbing the drape is difficult! It is particularly difficult in a wedding sari, which is heavily-decorated and weighs several kilos. Additional challenge is that a sari should always be floor-length, which might mean that you will have to re-drape your sari if you are planning on switching between wearing high-heel shoes and being barefoot. Just something to remember if you plan to visit other people's houses and will be removing your shoes... I guess that explains why most Indian women wear flat-heel shoes.

If you are a first-time sari buyer, my advice would be to pick a sari that is light and made from a synthetic and soft material. The softer the material, the easier it will be for you to drape it around yourself. Usually, this kind of a sari would be called a "work sari" and would not be too expensive. Do not forget to get a matching pettitcoat and a choli for it as well!

Once you start feeling more comfortable wearing saris, you should go ahead and buy yourself a traditional silk sari. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, and are worn during official ceremonies and social gatherings.

Below are a few pictures of my wedding sari. As you can see on the first two photos it took several people to help me put it on before the ceremony:

On this photo Neeta, my sister in law, is putting a safety pin through my sari to make sure that it won't open during the ceremony:

Here is my wedding sari in the full glory. The part that is hanging over my shoulder is called a pallu:

Sitting on the floor in a sari is not easy! If you watched the videos carefully, you will remember that twice the material is draped around your waist. If you do it too tightly, you won't be able to sit down:

Another challenge during an Indian wedding ceremony is that it involves a lot of cycles of walking and sitting down. Moreover, the rim of my sari and of Anil's dhoti got tied together, which meant that we had to synchronize standing up and walking... Good practice before the marriage ;)

Here, Neeta helps me grab my sari in a way that it will not fall apart if Anil pulls it too hard:

During the religious part of an Indian wedding ceremony it is still expected that a woman wears a sari. However, as soon as this part is over, it is acceptable (and common) for women to change into other, more-comfortable outfits, e.g. lehengas (also spelled lehnga or lengha). Lehengas are long, heavily-decorated elegant skirts worn together with a choli (the same blouse that is worn under a sari) and a scarf (called dupatta).

On the picture below is the lehenga that I wore during my wedding party. As you can see also Anil changed his clothes and here he is wearing a kurta and a churidar:

In my experience, the use of lehengas is reserved to fancy parties (like wedding parties). I did not see a single Indian woman wearing a lehenga anywhere on the streets.

In Southern India, around 95% of women wear saris, and the remaining 5% wear salwar kameez. The salwar kameez is more popular among younger girls and teenagers, whereas saris are more popular among adult women. It seems to be that most Indian women living in the US only wear saris to the temple and for parties/events, and during the remaining time they either wear salwar kameez or kurtas over jeans.

The salwar kameez is a dress similar to shirt and pants worn by westerners. It consists of loose trousers (called the "salwar") topped by a long loose shirt (the kameez). It is always worn with a scarf called a Dupatta, which is usually drawn around the shoulders and over the bosom (as I learned, covering the breasts is the primary purpose of wearing a dupatta). When needed, the dupatta can also be used to cover the head.

Here I am wearing a salwar kameez I borrowed from Arjumand:

What you can not see at the picture above is that the trousers - salwar - are often super-wide at the top:

And even when you tie them tight, they are still puffy:

Luckily, the blouse (kameez) that is worn above them is long (traditionally knee-long) and covers the weirdly looking part of the trousers.

In some outfits other type of trousers - tightly fitting churidars - are worn instead of salwars. Churidars can be worn both by men and women. They are usually stretchy and, therefore, close-fitting. They are also longer than the leg - the excess length falls into folds and appears like a set of bangles resting on the ankle (hence the name "churidar": "churi" means a bangle, and "dar" means like).

Here I am wearing churidar trousers and kameez blouse:

Front view, a dupatta complements the outfit:

The churidar is usually worn with a kameez (tunic) by women or a kurta (a loose overshirt) by men.

Kurta can be worn both by men and women. It is similar to the kameez, but it is more loosely cut. Usually kurtas are knee-length, do not have collars, have straight wrist-length sleeves, and open to the front. They are traditionally worn with loose-fitting salwars, tight-fitting churidars, or wrapped-around dhotis. But nowadays they are also worn with jeans. They can be worn both as casual everyday wear and as formal dress (E.g. Anil wore a marron kurta and a cream churidar trousers during our wedding party - check out the photos above.)

Other type of clothing that is commonly worn by men during formal gatherings is a dhoti. It is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, usually around 7 meters long, wrapped around the waist and the legs and knotted at the waist. It can be worn by itself or under shirts, t-shirts, or anything else.

In southern India the garment is worn at all cultural occasions and traditional ceremonies. Hence, during the religious part of our wedding Anil and the priest (pandit) wore dhotis (check out the pictures above). I was told that draping a dhoti is as difficult as draping a sari, but I did not have a chance to check it myself.

Lungi is a similar piece of clothing to a dhoti. It is also worn by men, though only on informal occasions. Unlike dhotis, which are linear like sheets, lungis are sewn into a tube shaped like a skirt. The standard adult lungi is 115 cm x 200 cm, when open. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, almost all Indian men wear Western-style clothing.